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Carving 101

This page contains basic carving techniques.

::  Safety First  Getting Started Finishing ::

  Safety First

Observing a few safety precautions makes the carving experience more enjoyable, including:

  1. Never carve toward yourself or your holding hand.
  2. Brace your carving wood and keep your hands out of the path of the tools at all times.
  3. Always push the tool you are using, away from your body!
  4. Carve with the grain of the wood for ease and cleanest cuts.
  5. Turn the wood, as you carve, to an angle that is comfortable to work.
  6. Keep a razor-sharp edge on your tools.
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  Getting Started


Here are a few techniques to help you get started:

  1. Sketch or transfer the pattern onto the wood.
  2. If necessary, cutout the pattern.
  3. Make stop cuts or outline cuts along the pattern lines to prevent the wood from splintering away from areas where it should remain.
  4. If you have used a knife to outline your pattern with stop cuts, next make angle cuts on both sides of the stop cut to make a V-shaped groove along all your pattern lines.
  5. Contour the sharp corners of the angle or outline cuts using a chisel tool or knife.
  6. Widen and soften contoured edges with additional contour and/or relief carving.
  7. Use gouge tools to remove background areas that are generally the lowest areas of a finished carving (see Relief Carving).
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The finishing technique will depend upon the type of carving. 

  1. Relief and chip carvings may be finished naturally or with a stain, or with only a quick drying lacquer or clear, non-yellowing, acrylic finish.
  2. Relief and carvings-in-the-round may be finished with paints.

Natural and Stain Finishes

Apply a quick drying lacquer or clear, non-yellowing, acrylic to achieve a natural finish.   When using aerosols, apply several light coats to avoid excessive build-up.

Apply stain and wipe off with a soft, lint-free cloth.  Let the stain remain heavier in the recessed areas of the carving.   Staining may also be done after painting to achieve an antiqued look.

Paint Finishes

A few tips when using acrylic paints:

  1. If the carving was in basswood, apply a coat of quick drying lacquer.  This prevents the grain from raising when acrylic washes are applied.
  2. Select brush sizes appropriate for the area being painted.
  3. Use short handle brushes -- long handles are meant for use on easels.
  4. Thin the acrylics with three parts water to form a wash.
  5. Wash with several coats to achieve the desired color.
  6. Washes of different colors may overlap to create blended effects.
  7. After completing the painting, apply one or more coats of any acrylic sealer.  This protects and preserves the paint.
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Revised:  2001-03-08


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